21 | ENE | 2020
Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto – Photo: Ulises Castellanos/EL UNIVERSAL

An interview with the Mexican President: the highlights

David Aponte
Mexico City
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One year and three months away from Mexico's General Elections, President Enrique Peña Nieto talks about the future of the country and what his administration has achieved so far

It's the week of the 5th Government Report and the President Enrique Peña Nieto is currently at his office in the Official Residence.

There are still 15 months left to his administration, but the air is already heavy with farewell – because when the moment comes, it will be the conclusion of his “political career”. In Peña Nieto's own words: “I'll have to reinvent myself. Doing what? Where? I don't know yet, I'll have to figure it out once this responsibility concludes, but I've already decided to end my political life in Mexico.”

Nevertheless, his administration still has a way to go, and the Cheif of the Executive is entering into the last stage of his administration, a stage of succession, and of the definition of the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)  to the Presidency.

When asked about the profile of this presidential candidate, the President doesn't evade the question, despite his own times and the rhythm, dynamics, and traditions of the party:

“There are at least two important attributes the party's candidate must have: one, a clear vision of the Mexico they want to build and the Mexico they want to support; that they know where the country is going and how to get there to achieve better conditions. And two, that they must have a clean, honest, prestigious and recognizable career. Because this will allow the PRI to have a highly competitive candidate,” he explains.

During an interview with EL UNIVERSAL, Peña Nieto talked about the main focus of his administration: boosting structural changes. The President explains how his government has set the conditions to improve the country's development to offer more job opportunities and increase the productivity and competitivity of the Mexican society. He particularly mentions two sectors where he claims changes are already visible: telecommunications and education – of the latter he says it's the “most important structural change [Mexico] has had in decades.”

While Peña Nieto recognizes the results are gradual and the full maturity of the reforms is not evident yet, he theorizes that in five or six years time, the progress achieved will shape a different Mexico for the benefit of the people.

On the matter of security, the President acknowledges this has been an important challenge for the Government, but that progress has been made, such as a better coordination amongst the different federal and local authorities, the improvement of training and equipment, and the implementation of a new criminal justice system. However, he says Mexico still has a long way to go before it becomes a “wholly peaceful country.”

He notes that there are locations where violence has increased, but remarks that it has been the result of the fight against drug trafficking what has led the different criminal gangs to fight over the territory, and that the matter of security will continue to be a huge challenge.

When asked about corruption – given recent events in the country, such as the involvement of a public official in the Odebrecht case – the President says corruption is “practically a cultural issue”, because it exists within the public and private sector, and to eradicate it from society, the efforts require that all become involved in the task. He explains that while they have built a legal structure for this purpose, its adequate operation demands the involvement of society.

“Today we have something new, a National Transparency System. Now all the powers, unions, autonomous organizations, political parties, and more are compelled to be transparent, and any citizen can demand to know how are the public resources of each public agency being allocated.”

On the National Anti-Corruption System, the President says it has been implemented to “generate public policies which prevent corruption and sanction these practices.” He also remarks he can't remember another administration where so many high-profile individuals accused of corruption had been brought to justice and were currently being prosecuted.

“Corruption doesn't fester only in a political party, in a public institution, it can also be found in the private sector and we should all contribute, with real and genuine efforts, to fight this scourge.”

He points out the Congress still has to make some decisions in this regard, and hopes the necessary agreements are made – particularly those concerning the National Anti-Corruption System – because corruption “is not part of our society's genetics,” and while it “might take a while” to eradicate it, he says the joint effort of all will make it possible.

Discussing now matters of foreign policies, the President says that Mexico believes in the principle of non-intervention and in the right of self-determination of each nation, although in the case of Venezuela, the clear “violations to the democratic order” represent a “humanitarian crisis”, and that Mexico has raised its voice to demand that Venezuela resolves – through dialogue and peaceful means – its current differences.

Regarding the issues with Mexico's Northern neighbor, the United States of America, Peña Nieto says the Mexican Government has “made it clear” that Mexico is being patient and prudent, but also determined in defending the interests of the Mexican people and the national sovereignty. And on the matter of the border wall, “while [every nation] has the right to guard its borders as they see fit,” the President considers the stance has been firm and clear since the beginning, stressing that Mexico has always deemed the wall an unacceptable condition.

On the role of the government in the upcoming General Elections, the President says it's the responsibility of his government to ensure “an adequate and peaceful environment” for the exercise of democracy, and while the Mexican people will decide on which vision of Mexico they believe in, he – in his quality as Mexican citizen – hopes society judges the different projects and evaluates which will ensure a positive future for Mexico.

Asking about the most complicated issue he encountered during his administration, Peña Nieto says one of his “most critical moments” and probably the event that has “left a mark” in his administration is the case of Ayotzinapa.

Although it's “regrettable what happened”, the President considers the “entire investigation process was biased by a high politicization; nevertheless, the results of the investigation that should prevail are the ones that leave no doubts on what may have happened, or not, to the young missing men.”

On the other hand, one of his biggest satisfactions – in addition to consolidating and fostering development – has been the opportunity to have “served as the President of the Republic.”

“It has been my greatest satisfaction and the greatest privilege I've had in politics. And to have reached such a high responsibility allows me to decide – and this is the only thing I'm certain of – that this concludes my political career.”

The President bids his farewells and departs from the Lázaro Cárdenas House to lunch with the senators of the Institutional Revolutionary Party and the Green Party, in times of political volatility for the succession of 2018.

-Summarized from the Spanish Version

Mantente al día con el boletín de El Universal